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The Evolution of the Universe

Some 15 billion years ago the universe emerged from a hot, dense sea of matter and energy. As the cosmos expanded and cooled, it spawned galaxies, stars, planets and life

 

At a particular instant roughly 15 billion years ago, all the matter and energy we can observe, concentrated in a region smaller than a dime, began to expand and cool at an incredibly rapid rate. By the time the temperature had dropped to 100 million times that of the sun’s core, the forces of nature assumed their present properties, and the elementary particles known as quarks roamed freely in a sea of energy. When the universe had expanded an additional 1,000 times, all the matter we can measure filled a region the size of the solar system.

At that time, the free quarks became confined in neutrons and protons. After the universe had grown by another factor of 1,000, protons and neutrons combined to form atomic nuclei, including most of the helium and deuterium present today. All of this occurred within the first minute of the expansion. Conditions were still too hot, however, for atomic nuclei to capture electrons. Neutral atoms appeared in abundance only after the expansion had continued for 300,000 years and the universe was 1,000 times smaller than it is now. The neutral atoms then began to coalesce into gas clouds, which later evolved into stars. By the time the universe had expanded to one fifth its present size, the stars had formed groups recognizable as young galaxies.

When the universe was half its present size, nuclear reactions in stars had produced most of the heavy elements from which terrestrial planets were made. Our solar system is relatively young: it formed five billion years ago, when the universe was two thirds its present size. Over time the formation of stars has consumed the supply of gas in galaxies, and hence the population of stars is waning. Fifteen billion years from now stars like our sun will be relatively rare, making the universe a far less hospitable place for observers like us.

Our understanding of the genesis and evolution of the universe is one of the great achievements of 20th-century science. This knowledge comes from decades of innovative experiments and theories. Modern telescopes on the ground and in space detect the light from galaxies billions of light-years away, showing us what the universe looked like when it was young. Particle accelerators probe the basic physics of the high-energy environment of the early universe. Satellites detect the cosmic background radiation left over from the early stages of expansion, providing an image of the universe on the largest scales we can observe.

Our best efforts to explain this wealth of data are embodied in a theory known as the standard cosmological model or the big bang cosmology. The major claim of the theory is that in the largescale average the universe is expanding in a nearly homogeneous way from a dense early state. At present, there are no fundamental challenges to the big bang theory, although there are certainly unresolved issues within the theory itself. Astronomers are not sure, for example, how the galaxies were formed, but there is no reason to think the process did not occur within the framework of the big bang. Indeed, the predictions of the theory have survived all tests to date.

Yet the big bang model goes only so far, and many fundamental mysteries remain. What was the universe like before it was expanding? (No observation we have made allows us to look back beyond the moment at which the expansion began.) What will happen in the distant future, when the last of the stars exhaust the supply of nuclear fuel? No one knows the answers yet.

Our universe may be viewed in many lights—by mystics, theologians, philosophers or scientists. In science we adopt the plodding route: we accept only what is tested by experiment or observation. Albert Einstein gave us the now well-tested and accepted Theory of General Relativity, which establishes the relations between mass, energy, space and time. Einstein showed that a homogeneous distribution of matter in space fits nicely with his theory. He assumed without discussion that the universe is static, unchanging in the large-scale average [see “How Cosmology Became a Science,” by Stephen G. Brush; SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, August 1992].

In 1922 the Russian theorist Alexander A. Friedmann realized that Einstein’s universe is unstable; the slightest perturbation would cause it to expand or contract. At that time, Vesto M. Slipher of Lowell Observatory was collecting the first evidence that galaxies are actually moving apart. Then, in 1929, the eminent astronomer Edwin P. Hubble showed that the rate a galaxy is moving away from us is roughly proportional to its distance from us.

The existence of an expanding universe implies that the cosmos has evolved from a dense concentration of matter into the present broadly spread distribution of galaxies. Fred Hoyle, an English cosmologist, was the first to call this process the big bang. Hoyle intended to disparage the theory, but the name was so catchy it gained popularity. It is somewhat misleading, however, to describe the expansion as some type of explosion of matter away from some particular point in space.

That is not the picture at all: in Einstein’s universe the concept of space and the distribution of matter are intimately linked; the observed expansion of the system of galaxies reveals the unfolding of space itself. An essential feature of the theory is that the average density in space declines as the universe expands; the distribution of matter forms no observable edge. In an explosion the fastest particles move out into empty space, but in the big bang cosmology, particles uniformly fill all space. The expansion of the universe has had little influence on the size of galaxies or even clusters of galaxies that are bound by gravity; space is simply opening up between them. In this sense, the expansion is similar to a rising loaf of raisin bread. The dough is analogous to space, and the raisins, to clusters of galaxies. As the dough expands, the raisins move apart. Moreover, the speed with which any two raisins move apart is directly and positively related to the amount of dough separating them.

The evidence for the expansion of the universe has been accumulating for some 60 years. The first important clue is the redshift. A galaxy emits or absorbs some wavelengths of light more strongly than others. If the galaxy is moving away from us, these emission and absorption features are shifted to longer wavelengths—that is, they become redder as the recession velocity increases. This phenomenon is known as the redshift.

Hubble’s measurements indicated that the redshift of a distant galaxy is greater than that of one closer to the earth. This relation, now known as Hubble’s law, is just what one would expect in a uniformly expanding universe. Hubble’s law says the recession velocity of a galaxy is equal to its distance multiplied by a quantity called Hubble’s constant. The redshift effect in nearby galaxies is relatively subtle, requiring good instrumentation to detect it. In contrast, the redshift of very distant objects—radio galaxies and quasars—is an awesome phenomenon; some appear to be moving away at greater than 90 percent of the speed of light.

Hubble contributed to another crucial part of the picture. He counted the number of visible galaxies in different directions in the sky and found that they appear to be rather uniformly distributed. The value of Hubble’s constant seemed to be the same in all directions, a necessary consequence of uniform expansion. Modern surveys confirm the fundamental tenet that the universe is homogeneous on large scales. Although maps of the distribution of the nearby galaxies display clumpiness, deeper surveys reveal considerable uniformity.

The Milky Way, for instance, resides in a knot of two dozen galaxies; these in turn are part of a complex of galaxies that protrudes from the so-called local supercluster. The hierarchy of clustering has been traced up to dimensions of about 500 million light-years. The fluctuations in the average density of matter diminish as the scale of the structure being investigated increases. In maps that cover distances that reach close to the observable limit, the average density of matter changes by less than a tenth of a percent.

To test Hubble’s law, astronomers need to measure distances to galaxies. One method for gauging distance is to observe the apparent brightness of a galaxy. If one galaxy is four times fainter in the night sky than an otherwise comparable galaxy, then it can be estimated to be twice as far away. This expectation has now been tested over the whole of the visible range of distances.

Some critics of the theory have pointed out that a galaxy that appears to be smaller and fainter might not actually be more distant. Fortunately, there is a direct indication that objects whose redshifts are larger really are more distant. The evidence comes from observations of an effect known as gravitational lensing. An object as massive and compact as a galaxy can act as a crude lens, producing a distorted, magnified image (or even many images) of any background radiation source that lies behind it. Such an object does so by bending the paths of light rays and other electromagnetic radiation. So if a galaxy sits in the line of sight between the earth and some distant object, it will bend the light rays from the object so that they are observable [see “Gravitational Lenses,” by Edwin L. Turner; SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, July 1988]. During the past decade, astronomers have discovered more than a dozen gravitational lenses. The object behind the lens is always found to have a higher redshift than the lens itself, confirming the qualitative prediction of Hubble’s law.

Hubble’s law has great significance not only because it describes the expansion of the universe but also because it can be used to calculate the age of the cosmos. To be precise, the time elapsed since the big bang is a function of the present value of Hubble’s constant and its rate of change. Astronomers have determined the approximate rate of the expansion, but no one has yet been able to measure the second value precisely.

 

Still, one can estimate this quantity from knowledge of the universe’s average density. One expects that because gravity exerts a force that opposes expansion, galaxies would tend to move apart more slowly now than they did in the past. The rate of change in expansion is therefore related to the gravitational pull of the universe set by its average density. If the density is that of just the visible material in and around galaxies, the age of the universe probably lies between 12 and 20 billion years. (The range allows for the uncertainty in the rate of expansion.)

Yet many researchers believe the density is greater than this minimum value. So-called dark matter would make up the difference. A strongly defended argument holds that the universe is just dense enough that in the remote future the expansion will slow almost to zero. Under this assumption, the age of the universe decreases to the range of seven to 13 billion years.

DENSITY of neutrons and protons in the universe determined the abundances of certain elements. For a higher density universe, the computed helium abundance is little different, and the computed abundance of deuterium is considerably lower. The shaded region is consistent with the observations, ranging from an abundance of 24 percent for helium to one part in 1010 for the lithium isotope. This quantitative agreement is a prime success of the big bang cosmology.

To improve these estimates, many astronomers are involved in intensive research to measure both the distances to galaxies and the density of the universe. Estimates of the expansion time provide an important test for the big bang model of the universe. If the theory is correct, everything in the visible universe should be younger than the expansion time computed from Hubble’s law.

These two timescales do appear to be in at least rough concordance. For example, the oldest stars in the disk of the Milky Way galaxy are about nine billion years old—an estimate derived from the rate of cooling of white dwarf stars. The stars in the halo of the Milky Way are somewhat older, about 15 billion years—a value derived from the rate of nuclear fuel consumption in the cores of these stars. The ages of the oldest known chemical elements are also approximately 15 billion years—a number that comes from radioactive dating techniques. Workers in laboratories have derived these age estimates from atomic and nuclear physics. It is noteworthy that their results agree, at least approximately, with the age that astronomers have derived by measuring cosmic expansion.

Another theory, the steady state theory, also succeeds in accounting for the expansion and homogeneity of the universe. In 1946 three physicists in England—Hoyle, Hermann Bondi and Thomas Gold—proposed such a cosmology. In their theory the universe is forever expanding, and matter is created spontaneously to fill the voids. As this material accumulates, they suggested, it forms new stars to replace the old. This steady state hypothesis predicts that ensembles of galaxies close to us should look statistically the same as those far away. The big bang cosmology makes a different prediction: if galaxies were all formed long ago, distant galaxies should look younger than those nearby because light from them requires a longer time to reach us. Such galaxies should contain more shortlived stars and more gas out of which future generations of stars will form.

The test is simple conceptually, but it took decades for astronomers to develop detectors sensitive enough to study distant galaxies in detail. When astronomers examine nearby galaxies that are powerful emitters of radio wavelengths, they see, at optical wavelengths, relatively round systems of stars. Distant radio galaxies, on the other hand, appear to have elongated and sometimes irregular structures. Moreover, in most distant radio galaxies, unlike the ones nearby, the distribution of light tends to be aligned with the pattern of the radio emission.

Likewise, when astronomers study the population of massive, dense clusters of galaxies, they find differences between those that are close and those far away. Distant clusters contain bluish galaxies that show evidence of ongoing star formation. Similar clusters that are nearby contain reddish galaxies in which active star formation ceased long ago. Observations made with the Hubble Space Telescope confirm that at least some of the enhanced star formation in these younger clusters may be the result of collisions between their member galaxies, a process that is much rarer in the present epoch.

DISTANT GALAXIES differ greatly from those nearby—an observation that shows that galaxies evolved from earlier, more irregular forms. Among galaxies that are bright at both optical (blue) and radio (red) wavelengths, the nearby galaxies tend to have smooth elliptical shapes at optical wavelengths and very elongated radio images. As redshift, and therefore distance, increases, galaxies have more irregular elongated forms that appear aligned at optical and radio wavelengths. The galaxy at the far right is seen as it was at 10 percent of the present age of the universe. The images were assembled by Pat McCarthy of the Carnegie Institute.

So if galaxies are all moving away from one another and are evolving from earlier forms, it seems logical that they were once crowded together in some dense sea of matter and energy. Indeed, in 1927, before much was known about distant galaxies, a Belgian cosmologist and priest, Georges Lemaître, proposed that the expansion of the universe might be traced to an exceedingly dense state he called the primeval “super-atom.” It might even be possible, he thought, to detect remnant radiation from the primeval atom. But what would this radiation signature look like?

When the universe was very young and hot, radiation could not travel very far without being absorbed and emitted by some particle. This continuous exchange of energy maintained a state of thermal equilibrium; any particular region was unlikely to be much hotter or cooler than the average. When matter and energy settle to such a state, the result is a so-called thermal spectrum, where the intensity of radiation at each wavelength is a definite function of the temperature. Hence, radiation originating in the hot big bang is recognizable by its spectrum.

In fact, this thermal cosmic background radiation has been detected. While working on the development of radar in the 1940s, Robert H. Dicke, then at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, invented the microwave radiometer—a device capable of detecting low levels of radiation. In the 1960s Bell Laboratories used a radiometer in a telescope that would track the early communications satellites Echo-1 and Telstar. The engineer who built this instrument found that it was detecting unexpected radiation. Arno A. Penzias and Robert W. Wilson identified the signal as the cosmic background radiation. It is interesting that Penzias and Wilson were led to this idea by the news that Dicke had suggested that one ought to use a radiometer to search for the cosmic background.

Astronomers have studied this radiation in great detail using the Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) satellite and a number of rocket-launched, balloon-borne and ground-based experiments. The cosmic background radiation has two distinctive properties. First, it is nearly the same in all directions. (As George F. Smoot of Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory and his team discovered in 1992, the variation is just one part per 100,000.) The interpretation is that the radiation uniformly fills space, as predicted in the big bang cosmology. Second, the spectrum is very close to that of an object in thermal equilibrium at 2.726 kelvins above absolute zero. To be sure, the cosmic background radiation was produced when the universe was far hotter than 2.726 degrees, yet researchers anticipated correctly that the apparent temperature of the radiation would be low. In the 1930s Richard C. Tolman of the California Institute of Technology showed that the temperature of the cosmic background would diminish because of the universe’s expansion.

The cosmic background radiation provides direct evidence that the universe did expand from a dense, hot state, for this is the condition needed to produce the radiation. In the dense, hot early universe thermonuclear reactions produced elements heavier than hydrogen, including deuterium, helium and lithium. It is striking that the computed mix of the light elements agrees with the observed abundances. That is, all evidence indicates that the light elements were produced in the hot, young universe, whereas the heavier elements appeared later, as products of the thermonuclear reactions that power stars.

The theory for the origin of the light elements emerged from the burst of research that followed the end of World War II. George Gamow and graduate student Ralph A. Alpher of George Washington University and Robert Herman of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory and others used nuclear physics data from the war e›ort to predict what kind of nuclear processes might have occurred in the early universe and what elements might have been produced. Alpher and Herman also realized that a remnant of the original expansion would still be detectable in the existing universe.

Despite the fact that significant details of this pioneering work were in error, it forged a link between nuclear physics and cosmology. The workers demonstrated that the early universe could be viewed as a type of thermonuclear reactor. As a result, physicists have now precisely calculated the abundances of light elements produced in the big bang and how those quantities have changed because of subsequent events in the interstellar medium and nuclear processes in stars.

Our grasp of the conditions that prevailed in the early universe does not translate into a full understanding of how galaxies formed. Nevertheless, we do have quite a few pieces of the puzzle. Gravity causes the growth of density fluctuations in the distribution of matter, because it more strongly slows the expansion of denser regions, making them grow still denser. This process is observed in the growth of nearby clusters of galaxies, and the galaxies themselves were probably assembled by the same process on a smaller scale.

The growth of structure in the early universe was prevented by radiation pressure, but that changed when the universe had expanded to about 0.1 percent of its present size. At that point, the temperature was about 3,000 kelvins, cool enough to allow the ions and electrons to combine to form neutral hydrogen and helium. The neutral matter was able to slip through the radiation and to form gas clouds that could collapse to star clusters. Observations show that by the time the universe was one fifth its present size, matter had gathered into gas clouds large enough to be called young galaxies.

A pressing challenge now is to reconcile the apparent uniformity of the early universe with the lumpy distribution of galaxies in the present universe. Astronomers know that the density of the early universe did not vary by much, because they observe only slight irregularities in the cosmic background radiation. So far it has been easy to develop theories that are consistent with the available measurements, but more critical tests are in progress. In particular, different theories for galaxy formation predict quite different fluctuations in the cosmic background radiation on angular scales less than about one degree. Measurements of such tiny fluctuations have not yet been done, but they might be accomplished in the generation of experiments now under way. It will be exciting to learn whether any of the theories of galaxy formation now under consideration survive these tests.

The present-day universe has provided ample opportunity for the development of life as we know it—there are some 100 billion billion stars similar to the sun in the part of the universe we can observe. The big bang cosmology implies, however, that life is possible only for a bounded span of time: the universe was too hot in the distant past, and it has limited resources for the future. Most galaxies are still producing new stars, but many others have already exhausted their supply of gas. Thirty billion years from now, galaxies will be much darker and filled with dead or dying stars, so there will be far fewer planets capable of supporting life as it now exists.

The universe may expand forever, in which case all the galaxies and stars will eventually grow dark and cold. The alternative to this big chill is a big crunch. If the mass of the universe is large enough, gravity will eventually reverse the expansion, and all matter and energy will be reunited. During the next decade, as researchers improve techniques for measuring the mass of the universe, we may learn whether the present expansion is headed toward a big chill or a big crunch.

In the near future, we expect new experiments to provide a better understanding of the big bang. As we improve measurements of the expansion rate and the ages of stars, we may be able to confirm that the stars are indeed younger than the expanding universe. The larger telescopes recently completed or under construction may allow us to see how the mass of the universe affects the curvature of spacetime, which in turn influences our observations of distant galaxies.

We will also continue to study issues that the big bang cosmology does not address. We do not know why there was a big bang or what may have existed before. We do not know whether our universe has siblings—other expanding regions well removed from what we can observe. We do not understand why the fundamental constants of nature have the values they do. Advances in particle physics suggest some interesting ways these questions might be answered; the challenge is to find experimental tests of the ideas.

In following the debate on such matters of cosmology, one should bear in mind that all physical theories are approximations of reality that can fail if pushed too far. Physical science advances by incorporating earlier theories that are experimentally supported into larger, more encompassing frameworks. The big bang theory is supported by a wealth of evidence: it explains the cosmic background radiation, the abundances of light elements and the Hubble expansion. Thus, any new cosmology surely will include the big bang picture. Whatever developments the coming decades may bring, cosmology has moved from a branch of philosophy to a physical science where hypotheses meet the test of observation and experiment.

 

  • Editor’s Note (10/8/19): Cosmologist James Peebles won a 2019 Nobel Prize in Physics for his contributions to theories of how our universe began and evolved. He describes these ideas in this article, which he co-wrote for Scientific American in 1994.

This article was originally published with the title “The Evolution of the Universe” in Scientific American 271, 4, 52-57 (October 1994)

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR(S)

  1. JAMES E. PEEBLES is one of the world’s most distinguished cosmologists, a key player in the early analysis of the cosmic microwave background radiation and the bulk composition of the universe. He has received some of the highest awards in astronomy, including the 1982 Heineman Prize, the 1993 Henry Norris Russell Lectureship of the American Astronomical Society and the 1995 Bruce Medal of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific. Peebles is currently an emeritus professor at Princeton University.

Recent Articles by P. James E. Peebles

Recent Articles by David N. Schramm

Edwin L. Turner is a professor of Astrophysical Sciences at Princeton University, an affiliate scientist at the Kavli Institute for the Physics and Mathematics of the Universe at the University of Tokyo, a visiting member in the Program in Interdisciplinary Studies at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, and a co-founding Board of Directors member of YHouse, Inc. He has experienced total solar eclipses in 1970 on an island off the Massachusetts coast, in 2006 in the Egyptian desert, and in 2009 from a cruise ship in the Pacific Ocean–but missed one due to clouds in 1999 in southern Germany. He hopes to view the 21 August 2017 eclipse from a location near Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

Recent Articles by Edwin L. Turner

 

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YouTube Woos Creators To Fend Off Competition

YouTube on Thursday laid out goals for the year that included making the lives of creators easier and boosting a popular format that rivals TikTok.

The video-sharing platform is investing in short-form and live video, along with tools to help creators make money and produce fresh content, according to chief product officer Neal Mohan.

“YouTube creators are the heart and soul of the platform, and we want them to always be able to fulfill their most ambitious creative goals,” Mohan said in a blog post.

“To give them every opportunity possible, we’ll continue to invest across our multiple formats.”

Short-form content like the video snippets that are a winning ingredient at TikTok are incredibly popular. YouTube’s take on the concept, called “Shorts,” has logged more than five trillion all-time views, according to Mohan.

YouTube started a fund last year to reward those creating popular content on Shorts and is exploring ways for them to make money such as brand sponsorships, special chat forums, or adding the ability to shop directly from a posted video clip.

Short videos, typically made using smartphones, can be as long as 60 seconds, with music and comedy as popular themes.

Facebook and Instagram parent Meta has its own spin on the offering called Reels.

YouTube has also found success with its “Live” format, with users’ time spent watching it daily more than tripling over the course of last year, Mohan said.

The video giant is planning to begin letting creators collaborate on live streams in real-time.

“One of the biggest questions live-streaming creators have is, ‘What do I talk about?’” Mohan said.

“The ability to go live together should hopefully open upstreams to more casual conversation and interactions with other creators.”

YouTube has also started testing letting channel viewers buy gift memberships for others watching the same stream, according to Mohan.

In addition, YouTube is looking into incorporating new technologies such as blockchain and non-fungible tokens (NFTs) to potentially let creators sell verifiably unique videos, photos, or art.

“There’s a lot to consider in making sure we approach these new technologies responsibly, but we think there’s incredible potential as well,” Mohan said.

YouTube has been a growing contributor to revenue at Google, which makes most of its money from online advertising.

AFP

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Google To Overhaul Ad Tracking System On Android Devices

Google announced plans Wednesday to limit ad tracking on its Android operating system, a sensitive privacy issue that rival Apple has already moved to address on its iPhones.

Tech giants are under growing pressure to better balance privacy and ad-targeting, as users complain, regulators threaten tougher rules, but the companies themselves try to maintain access to the data key to their many billions in ad revenue.

Apple and Google’s operating software run on the majority of the world’s smartphones, thus any changes they make to their policies have the potential to impact billions of users.

“Our goal… is to develop effective and privacy enhancing advertising solutions, where users know their information is protected, and developers and businesses have the tools to succeed on mobile,” Google said in a statement.

For its part, Apple announced last year that users of its one billion iPhones in circulation can decide whether to allow their online activity to be tracked for the purpose of targeting ads.

It was a change which Apple said shows its focus is on privacy, but that critics noted does not prevent the company itself from tracking its users.

Apple’s tweak has sent ripples through the tech world, with Facebook parent Meta saying it expects that policy to cost the social media giant $10 billion in lost revenue this year.

A heavy impact is expected because less data will impact the precision of the ads Meta and other companies can sell, and thus their price.

– Online advertising billions –

Google gave an indication of the timing of its announced changes, saying “we plan to support existing ads platform features for at least two years, and we intend to provide substantial notice ahead of any future changes.”

At present, the internet search giant assigns an identity to Android-powered devices, which enables advertisers to have a profile of people’s habits and thus send them ads they might be interested in.

Google said it is working on ways to better protect users’ privacy, which would “limit sharing of user data with third parties and operate without cross-app identifiers, including advertising ID.”

It contrasted its plans with Apple’s moves, saying, “we realize that other platforms have taken a different approach to ads privacy, bluntly restricting existing technologies used by developers and advertisers.”

While Google argued that the changes would protect users’ anonymity, it could also further strengthen the dominance the tech giant already holds over the digital advertising industry.

Google’s parent Alphabet pulled in over $60 billion in the fourth quarter of 2021 just in ad revenue, which makes up over 80 percent of its income.

But new pressure to change is building on Big Tech due to advancing landmark European legislation that could set unprecedented oversight, and similar efforts are underway in the United States.

The Facebook whistleblower scandal last year boosted regulation efforts long-stalled by sharp partisan divides in Washington, but for the moment no major legislation has gotten significant momentum.

In the absence of action from the federal government legislation or rules, states have launched their own lawsuits.

In one such complaint filed in January, multiple states accuse Google of tracking users’ location data despite leading consumers to believe they could protect their privacy on its services.

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Russia Fines Google $98m Over Banned Content

A Moscow court slapped Google with an unprecedented hefty fine of nearly $100 million on Friday as Russia ramps up its pressure on foreign tech giants.

Moscow has piled fines on the world’s biggest internet platforms, accusing them of not moderating their content properly and interfering in the country’s affairs.

But so far fines on Facebook parent company Meta, Twitter, Google have stretched into the tens of millions of rubles, not billions.

However on Friday a Moscow court fine Google a record 7.2 billion rubles, ($98 million, 86 million euros), the court’s press service said on Telegram, for repeatedly failing to delete illegal content.

The content was not specified, but Russia regularly takes legal action for not removing content it labels illegal, such as pornographic material or posts condoning drugs and suicide.

“We’ll study the court documents and then decide on next steps,” Google’s press service told AFP.

Interfax news agency said that the massive fine was calculated as a percentage of Google’s annual earnings and was the maximum penalty for a repeated violation.

Meta — which has a hearing in court later today on the same charges — has also been threatened with a revenue-based fine.

On Thursday, Twitter was handed its latest fine of three million rubles ($40,000) after authorities started throttling its services in the spring.

In the past few years, the Russian government has used the pretext of protecting minors and fighting extremism to control the Russian segment of the web and began developing a so-called sovereign internet.

Fines and Threats 

Ahead of parliamentary elections in September, Russia’s media watchdog blocked dozes of websites linked to jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, whose organisations have been banned in Russia as “extremist”.

The regulator also ordered Google and Apple to remove an app dedicated to Navalny’s “Smart Voting” campaign which advised supporters who to vote for to unseat Kremlin-aligned politicians.

The Silicon Valley giants complied, with sources telling AFP the decisions came after authorities threatened to arrest local staff.

Russia’s media regulator has also blocked dozens of websites linked to Navalny.

Earlier, during protests in January in support of Navalny, authorities accused platforms including Google’s YouTube and Twitter of meddling in Russia’s domestic affairs by not deleting posts calling for people to join the rallies.

President Vladimir Putin that same month complained that large technology companies were competing with states.

Russia has already blocked a number of websites that have refused to cooperate with authorities, such as the video platform Dailymotion and LinkedIn.

As part of broad efforts to bend foreign tech under its control, Russia in September banned six major VPN providers including Nord VPN and Express VPN.

Russia also introduced a new law demanding that smartphones, computers and other gadgets sold in the country come with pre-installed domestic software and apps.

Russia’s opposition accuses the Kremlin of using such regulations to further stifle freedom of speech and clamp down on online dissent.

AFP

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World’s Most Powerful Telescope Blasts Off Into Space

The world’s most powerful space telescope on Saturday blasted off into orbit, headed to an outpost 1.5 million kilometres (930,000 miles) from Earth, after several delays caused by technical hitches.

The James Webb Space Telescope, some three decades and billions of dollars in the making, left Earth enclosed in its Ariane 5 rocket from Kourou Space Centre in French Guiana.

“What an amazing day. It’s truly Christmas,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, head of scientific missions for NASA, which together with the European and Canadian space agencies, ESA and ACS, built the telescope.

ESA chief Josef Aschbacher said he was “very happy to say that we’ve delivered the spacecraft into orbit very precisely… that Ariane 5 performed extremely well”.

This was key, since placing the spacecraft in orbit helps economise on the fuel the telescope will need to reach its final destination and perform well after that.

It is expected to take a month to reach its remote destination.

It is set to beam back new clues that will help scientists understand more about the origins of the Universe and Earth-like planets beyond our solar system.

Named after a former NASA director, Webb follows in the footsteps of the legendary Hubble — but intends to show humans what the Universe looked like even closer to its birth nearly 14 billion years ago.

Speaking on social media, Webb project co-founder John Mather described the telescope’s unprecedented sensitivity.

“#JWST can see the heat signature of a bumblebee at the distance of the Moon,” he said.

All that power is needed to detect the weak glow emitted billions of years ago by the very first galaxies to exist and the first stars being formed.

‘Exceptional measures’

The telescope is unequalled in size and complexity.

Its mirror measures 6.5 metres (21 feet) in diameter — three times the size of the Hubble’s mirror — and is made of 18 hexagonal sections.

It is so large that it had to be folded to fit into the rocket.

That manoeuvre was laser-guided with NASA imposing strict isolation measures to limit any contact with the telescope’s mirrors from particles or even human breath.

Once the rockets have carried Webb 120 kilometres, the protective nose of the craft, called a “fairing”, will be shed to lighten the load.

To protect the delicate instrument from changes in pressure at that stage, rocket-builder Arianespace installed a custom decompression system.

“Exceptional measures for an exceptional client,” said a European Space Agency official in Kourou on Thursday.

Crew on the ground were to know whether the first stage of the flight was successful about 27 minutes after launch.

Once it reaches its station, the challenge will be to fully deploy the mirror and a tennis-court-sized sun shield.

That intimidatingly complex process will take two weeks and must be flawless if Webb is to function correctly.

Its orbit will be much farther than Hubble, which has been 600 kilometres above the Earth since 1990.

The location of Webb’s orbit is called the Lagrange 2 point and was chosen in part because it will keep the Earth, the Sun and the Moon all on the same side of its sun shield.

Webb is expected to officially enter service in June.

AFP

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Iran Announces New Space Launch Amid Nuclear Talks

Iran announced Thursday it had carried out a new space launch, in a move likely to irk Western powers amid tough talks on reviving a 2015 nuclear deal.

“The Simorgh satellite launcher carried three research cargos into space,” defence ministry spokesman Ahmad Hosseini said, quoted by state television.

“The research goals foreseen for this launch have been achieved,” Hosseini added, without elaborating on the nature of the research.

In February, Iran announced a successful test of its most powerful solid fuel satellite launcher to date, the Zoljanah, boasting that it can put a 220-kilogramme (1,100-pound) payload into orbit.

The United States voiced concern about that launch, saying the test could boost Iran’s ballistic missile technology at a moment when the two nations are inching back to diplomacy.

Iran successfully put its first military satellite into orbit in April 2020, drawing a sharp rebuke from Washington.

Western governments worry that satellite launch systems incorporate technologies interchangeable with those used in ballistic missiles capable of delivering a nuclear warhead.

Iran insists its space programme is for civilian and defence purposes only, and does not breach the nuclear deal or any other international agreement.

The 2015 agreement has been hanging by a thread since the US left it in 2018 and reimposed sanctions, prompting Iran to step up nuclear activities long curtailed by the deal.

A new round of negotiations began in Vienna on Monday in a fresh push to make headway on reviving the deal.

AFP

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2021: Year Of Space Tourism, Flights On Mars, China’s Rise

From the Mars Ingenuity helicopter’s first powered flight on another world to the launch of the James Webb telescope that will peer into the earliest epoch of the Universe, 2021 was a huge year for humanity’s space endeavors.

Beyond the science milestones, billionaires battled to reach the final frontier first, an all-civilian crew went into orbit, and Star Trek’s William Shatner waxed profound about what it meant to see the Earth from the cosmos, as space tourism finally came into its own.

 

Here are selected highlights. 

– Red Planet robot duo –

NASA’s Perseverance Rover survived its “seven minutes of terror,” a time when the craft relies on its automated systems for descent and landing, to touch down flawlessly on Mars’ Jezero Crater in February.

Since then, the car-sized robot has been taking photos and drilling for samples for its mission: determining whether the Red Planet might have hosted ancient microbial life forms.

A rock sample return mission is planned for sometime in the 2030s.

With its state-of-the-art instruments, “Percy,” as the helicopter is affectionately known, can also zap Martian rock and chemically analyze the vapor.

Percy has a partner along for the ride: Ingenuity, a four-pound (two kilogram) rotorcraft that in April succeeded in the first powered flight on another celestial body, just over a century after the Wright brothers’ achieved the same feat here on Earth, and has performed many more since.

“Perseverance is sort of the flagship mission, it’s doing a long-term detailed investigation of this fascinating area of Mars,” Jonathan McDowall, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, told AFP.

By contrast, “Ingenuity, is one of these cute, small, cheap little technology demos that NASA can do so well,” he added.

The insights gained from Ingenuity could help scientists develop Dragonfly, a planned thousand-pound drone copter, to search for signs of life on Saturn’s moon Titan in the mid-2030s.

 

 

– Private spaceflight takes off –

An American millionaire became the world’s first space tourist in 2001, but it took 20 more years for the promise of private space flight to finally materialize.

In July, Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson faced off against Blue Origin’s Jeff Bezos to be the first non-professional astronaut to complete a suborbital spaceflight.

While the British tycoon won that battle by a few days, it was Blue Origin that raced ahead, launching three more flights with paying customers and celebrity guests.

Elon Musk’s SpaceX entered the fray in September with a three-day orbital mission around the Earth featuring an all-civilian crew on Inspiration 4.

“It’s really exciting that finally, after so long this stuff is finally happening,” said space industry analyst Laura Seward Forczyk, author of the forthcoming book “Becoming Off-Worldly,” intended to prepare future space travelers.

But it was William Shatner, who played the swashbuckling Captain Kirk on the 1960s TV series “Star Trek,” who stole the show with a moving account of his experience.

“What you’re looking down on is Mother Earth, and it needs protecting,” he told reporters.

A Russian crew shot the first feature film in space aboard the International Space Station (ISS) in 2021, and Japanese tourists made their own visit there on a Russian rocket.

For a few minutes on December 11, there were a record 19 humans in space when Blue Origin carried out its third crewed mission, the Japanese team were on the ISS along with its normal crew, and Chinese taikonauts were in position on their station.

The sight of wealthy elites gallivanting in the cosmos hasn’t been to everyone’s liking, however, and the nascent space tourism sector triggered a backlash from some who said there were more pressing issues to face, such as climate change, here on Earth.

 

– Globalization of space –

During the Cold War, space was dominated by the United States and the former Soviet Union.

Now, in addition to the explosion of the commercial sector, which is sending up satellites at a dizzying pace, China, India and others are increasingly flexing their space flight muscles.

China’s Tiangong (Palace in the Sky) space station — its first long-term outpost — was launched in April, while its first Mars rover, Zhurong, landed in May, making it the only the second country to achieve such an exploit.

“In the past 20 years since China finally decided to go big on space, they’ve been in catch up mode,” said McDowall. “And now they’re kind of there, and they’re starting to do things that the US hasn’t done.”

The UAE placed a probe into Martian orbit in February, becoming the first Arab nation and fifth overall to reach the planet.

Russia meanwhile launched a missile at one of its own satellites, becoming the fourth country to hit a spacecraft from the ground, in a move that reignited concerns about the growing space arms race.

Washington slammed Moscow for its “reckless” test, which generated over 1,500 pieces of large orbital debris, dangerous for low Earth orbit missions such as the ISS.

 

– Coming soon… –

The year closed out with the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope, a $10 billion marvel that will make use of infrared technology to peer back 13 billion years in time.

“It’s arguably the most expensive, single scientific platform ever created,” said Casey Drier, chief advocate of the Planetary Society.

“To push the boundaries of our knowledge about the cosmos, we had to build something capable of accessing that ancient past,” he added.

It will reach Lagrange Point 2, a space landmark a million miles from Earth, in a matter of weeks, then gradually start up and calibrate its systems, coming online around June.

Also next year, the launch of Artemis 1 — when NASA’s giant Space Launch System (SLS) will carry the Orion capsule to the Moon and back, in preparation for America’s return with humans later this decade.

NASA plans to build lunar habitats and use lessons learned there for forward missions to Mars in the 2030s.

Observers are encouraged that the program launched by former president Donald Trump has continued under Joe Biden — even if he hasn’t been as vocal in his support.

Finally, sometime next fall, NASA’s DART probe will smash into an asteroid to kick it off course.

The proof-of-concept test is a dry run should humanity ever need to stop a giant space rock from wiping out life on Earth, as seen in Netflix’s new hit film “Don’t Look Up.”

AFP

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BMW Wants To Save The Planet With Cars

 

BMW’s entry into the fully electric vehicle market is only beginning. The BMW i4 and iX are its first salvos. A pure battery-electric version of the 7 Series sedan, likely to be called the i7, will debut next year. Come 2025, the German carmaker will finally launch a new dedicated EV platform, called Neue Klasse, that’ll underpin significantly more EVs. BMW, like all automakers, realizes that going green is essential but it wants to take environmentally-friendly technologies to even higher levels.

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Speaking to German-language publication Merkur.de, BMW CEO Oliver Zipse said that recycling has become a top priority for his company, stating that new cars could be 70 to 80 percent recyclable in the future.
“Humanity consumes around 100 billion tons of raw materials each year, almost all of which are taken from the upper layer of the earth,” he said. “For reasons of sustainability, but also from an economic point of view, we cannot continue doing this forever.”

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Last September at the Munich Motor Show, officially called the IAA, BMW showed the 100 percent recyclable i Vision Circular Concept, previewing future plans and ideas. At present, new vehicles can only utilize about 30 percent recycled materials, a figure BMW firmly believes must increase. The upcoming Neue Klasse architecture aims to improve upon that.

“Today we have a 30 percent share of recycled material in the vehicle,” Zipse added. “With the new class and our next vehicle architecture, we are moving towards 50 percent. And in perspective, I can even imagine 70 or 80 percent.”

 

Zipse further stressed that the supply chain itself plays a major role in recyclability. Designing cars for this purpose is not the biggest obstacle but rather the ability to obtain the necessary components. That’s why BMW has begun working closely with its suppliers to help overcome these hurdles. It won’t happen overnight but we suspect that within a decades’ time or so, new vehicles built with at least 70 percent recyclable parts will become standard practice, at least for BMW.

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Phone maker Hauwei beats Apple at making a car, announce New Range Extended EV.

Over the past few years, there has been a lot of talk about Apple going after Tesla with an Apple car, but Huawei, another phone maker, has actually created a plugin vehicle.

According to reports, Huawei is also preparing to compete with Tesla with a new plug-in vehicle.However, unlike Apple, the phone maker actually delivered on its promise in April by releasing the SF5, which it co-developed with Cyrus.


It was reported in February 2021 that Huawei planned to build a plug-in vehicle, and in April, it actually beat Apple to the punch. The SF5, a range-extended crossover, was Huawei’s first vehicle. It “features a 1.5-liter four-pot that acts as a generator, feeding a battery pack that powers a pair of electric motors.”

The Aito M5 is Huawei’s new vehicle, which the company hopes will compete with the Tesla Model Y, the Chinese market’s second most popular electric vehicle. Richard Yu, CEO of Huawei’s consumer business group, stated at the company’s winter product launch that the Aito M5 will outperform Tesla’s Model Y in terms of peak power and range. However, it is a range-extended plugin vehicle.


Yu also spoke about the sound quality. “You will know whether it is premium or not by the sound. We are able to offer the ‘library grade’ quality experience.”

The new M5 will also use Huawei’s HarmonyOS operating system that integrates with other Huawei products. Huawei customers can even use their smartwatches to start their vehicles. Huawei believes that transforming your vehicle into a smart device similar to your phone is the future. Interestingly, its operating system, HarmonyOS, was Huawei’s answer to Google banning it from using the Android operating system. Yu spoke on this as well.

GasGoo, a China automotive news site, noted that the Huawei Aito M5 starts from $39,250 that it can generate 3.2 kWh of electricity with one liter of fuel through its 1.5T four-cylinder range extender 3.0. According to Huawei, the M5 will allow for an NEDC range of 1,195 km on a full charge. The M5 is also designed with double-layered sound-proof glass which enables that library-like quality that Yu mentioned.

The M5 is equipped with:

1 CMS camera.

1 DMS camera.

1 DVR camera.

1 visual sensing camera.

4 APA cameras.

12 long-range ultrasonic radars.

3 millimeter-wave radars.

Test drives of the M5 will be available starting January 20 and deliveries will start after the Chinese New Year.

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Rolls-Royce Spectre Will Keep Traditionalists Rolls

Rolls-Royce is just one of the many manufacturers working heavily towards the electrification of its product lineup. The Wraith and Dawn have already been removed from the American lineup as of the end of 2021, and the British marque has begun the slow tease of its first-ever electric luxury car. We know a few things already. First, it’ll be called the Rolls-Royce Spectre, in keeping with Rolls’ ghostly naming scheme, and second, Rolls-Royce isn’t trying to alienate its loyal fanbase. But the images of the car we’ve seen so far, even those we ourselves have caught of it in the wild, have shown the car dressed up in camo, hiding much of the design. So, naturally, we had a crack at showcasing what it might look like when the wraps are peeled off.

 

We’ve been able to glean from the test mules that Rolls-Royce wants to keep to a tried and true design formula, with a large, long hood, sleek glasshouse, and a fastback design. The Spectre will be a two-door coupe to replace the Wraith, but like the model it replaces, it’ll have coach doors or suicide doors as they’re known to many. These elements have all been brought together in our exclusive render creating a familiar-looking machine, which is precisely what Rolls-Royce is likely to do if it doesn’t want to alienate its existing clientele. One of the biggest aspects of that philosophy is incorporating the Rolls-Royce Pantheon grille.

 

This was previously confirmed by RR CEO Torsten Muller-Otvos in November, but we’ve integrated a somewhat more contemporary take on the grille based on recent spy shots. Rolls-Royce, being owned by BMW, will likely follow a similar ethos to what BMW has done with the i4 and iX SUVs, incorporating the kidney grilles into the design despite the fact that they are not needed for EVs. In the case of the Spectre, however, we think Rolls will retain an even more traditional aspect with vertical chrome slats against the gloss black backing, possibly with backlighting to accent its electric nature. Split headlight clusters, also seen on recent prototypes, will flank this, and, as has become tradition, the Spirit of Ecstasy will sit atop the nose of the Spectre.

 

The Spectre is due to be unveiled towards the end of 2022 or early in 2023 and arrive in the USA as a 2024 model. But what will power it still remains a bit of a mystery. The likely answer comes from within the ranks of parent company, BMW. The BMW iX SUV uses a dual-motor powertrain with up to 600 horsepower and all-wheel drive in the M60 variant. This would closely mimic the current V12 powertrains in existing Rolls models. Rolls-Royce will also engineer sound into the car to compensate for wind and road noise in the absence of an engine.

 

When it does arrive, expect a price tag of around $300,000. After all, a Rolls-Royce isn’t cheap, especially when it’s the first of a new breed.

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